Effective change management requires a stockpile of advance work and may even include hiring outside expertise to facilitate analyzing, strategizing, and detailed planning for seamless introduction and execution. Blah, blah, blah… Okay, nothing new under the sun, and if you can’t hire a consultant, you can always purchase a book. So, why then, do some organizations navigate change management better than others? Is it because they have more expertise or maybe they were more thorough in their pre-planning and execution? Maybe, but not necessarily.
A rudimentary key to effective change management, or any human interaction, is to undergird it from a position of respect. Simply put, be deliberately respectful of all audiences affected, directly and indirectly, of the changes. By demonstrating respect, your audiences are more likely to be engaged, supportive and trusting, even if they don’t like what is happening. While it sounds simple enough, you might be surprised by how many change management plans don’t factor this key ingredient into the mix. If you happen to be one of those people where “building in respect” doesn’t come naturally, here are some simple thoughts, to get you started.
Relatable - Be real and honest about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Remove the corporate jargon and take off the stone mask. Now is not the time to appear like the iron-fisted ruler; at least loosen the tie or neck scarf. These are people that need to be able to trust you and relate to you. Yes, having “live” meetings is a good idea, even if they are video conferences or phone calls, and all should be supported by online or e-mail communication.
Empathetic - Empathy needs to be built in to your content and your delivery… This happens by knowing your audiences and delivering appropriate messaging and information, sharing what matters most to them (while not excluding important details). Yes, this does mean that you will have varying plans based on audience and depending on the situation, simultaneous speakers/authors. Do not make people wait around to hear their message.
Supportive - Be supportive. Change is usually not something most people embrace enthusiastically. Acknowledge that this change may not be easy, that you are confident that your audience will be key to making it happen, and don’t forget to talk about transitions and “helps” (like training) that are (or will be) in place. Yes, you do need to be prepared to send out a written communication and FAQ. Depending on the situation, you may also need HR on hand and available.
Proactive - Information sharing should be well thought out, so that you are in a position to proactively address questions from each specific audience. Yes, this also includes acknowledging questions that don’t yet have an answer.
Engaging - Be specific about the role they need to play in this change. People like to know what is next, even if it is day by day. If at all possible, make them part of figuring it out. Give them something forward-looking. Talk about the outcomes of the change, especially if there are favorable impacts to them. Yes, you need to include the downsides as well as the upsides and any timelines that you are working toward.
Complimentary - Acknowledge the success that has been achieved up to this point. While change must occur, prior success was achieved because of these people, and they need to know that their contribution was/is valued. Yes, acknowledge prior successes. People need reassurance that this is not about them or their work (unless, of course, it is).
Timely - Be timely in your communications and updates. Plan them out in advance and acknowledge what you don’t know. You cannot over communicate during times of change. And, the more inclusive you are, the better the morale. Yes, this also includes audience(s) that may be negatively affected by the change. Including this group can actually be more important to the group staying when the change will result in job losses for their co-workers. It demonstrates respect.
While clearly there are lots of details that go into effective change management, being respectful of people is an easy “win” out of the gate and will cover a multitude of short-comings in your plan and execution. It is simply the starting point for what comes next and is a tremendous catalyst for building trust during times of uncertainty.